By Dwibin Thomas, Cluster Automation Leader at Schneider Electric

“Focus on fixing the problem, never focus on the blame. Problems are only resolved when solutions are sought,” notes author Catherine Pulsifer. These words could not be truer when it comes to South Africa’s current energy crisis’ where the proverbial “blame game” has gotten out of hand.

What are the solutions and who do we blame? For one, there are many elements that play its part in our country’s energy crisis, some are difficult to control or solve whilst others can be fixed in a surprisingly short timeframe.

Spiralling out of control

Let’s look at our municipalities, for one they often must contend with circumstance out of their control. First, and a prime example, is cable theft, which is unfortunately exacerbated by load shedding as its easier to steal when the power is off, and you are privy to the schedule.

There are few things as frustrating as waiting for the power to return hours after the allotted load shedding period has ended. Cable theft is often the perpetrator and municipalities’ technical teams scramble for hours to find the problem and then replace the said cable.

Unfortunately, cable theft is often an act of desperation due South Africa’s socioeconomic situation, spurred on by illegal copper trade. To this end, the government has announced it plans to crack down on copper theft. Citing research from the Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies and Genesis Analytics, the Department of Trade and Industry and Competition (DTIC) says copper theft from the country’s rail network and electricity grids carries an annual economic cost exceeding R45 billion in 2020/2021.

“The costs arising from the theft of steel and other metals are also serious. By way of illustration, the damage from stolen steel lattices alone was R100 million in 2020/2021. As with cable theft, the destruction of pylons and other supports for transmission can lead to widespread loss of electricity,” says the research report.

Second is illegal connections. Residents often bypass metres, consuming large amounts of power without consent and resultant payment. It has become a downright horrible practice, with businesses often the biggest perpetrators, using exorbitant amounts of electricity with a total disregard for the rules and regulations of our country.

Find the short-term solutions

Looking at the above points, there are solutions that will enable municipalities to gain control and clamp down on power interruptions. The ability to monitor infrastructure offers a very real solution to dubious practices.

There are today outage management systems that utilise sensors installed along the electrical network to pinpoint when and where there is an interruption in power. In the case of cable theft, the system will alert the technical team as soon as a cable is cut, even during loadshedding.

It is a relatively simple solution to install and can go a long way in providing municipalities with invaluable real-time insights into how the power system is performing and, importantly, finding and resolving faults.

The second issue is illegal connections. Here, smart meters are the answer, however, it will take some positive marketing and awareness efforts to establish public buy-in.

Smart meters have built in anti-tampering measures and collect data that pinpoints user anomalies. For example, if a business typically uses more electricity on a Monday and Tuesday and this trend drops dramatically, the control centre will be alerted of possible illegal usage.

Smart metering software offers many key benefits such as: protecting power supply, reliable data aggregation, and advanced visualisation tools with enhanced visibility of smart meters.

Also, smart metering software enhances billing accuracy, which benefit both the consumer and the municipality as the statement will be true reflection of the power used and resultant cost incurred.

In a nutshell, as a country we still have quite a long road to walk to establish a stable grid, however, there are already few significant steps and solutions that can make the path less bumpy.

Click here to learn more about Schneider Electric.